Virginia’s Tech Roadmap: Space, Biotech, Cybersecurity and More

by James A. Bacon

A new study, “The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap,” has identified six strategic technology clusters exhibiting the greatest potential for Virginia’s economic growth. The report, conducted by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, is not prescriptive — it does not offer legislative recommendations. Rather, the report identifies fruitful areas for collaboration between education, industry, government, and economic developers.

The most promising areas for focused research and economic development include:

  1. Life and health science
  2. Autonomous systems
  3. Space and utilities
  4. Agricultural and environmental technologies
  5. Cybersecurity
  6. Data science analytics

Collaboration should take the form of aligning investments in R&D, talent development, industry engagement, capacity building (such as venture capital), and marketing/advocacy for the purpose of globally competitive industry clusters.

Life and health sciences. Life and health sciences is a broad field. The Roadmap identifies several “sub-verticals” in which Virginia has the potential to build critical mass:

  • Neuroscience (advanced technologies and regulated products)
  • Biomedical informatics
  • Medical and surgical devices
  • Advanced biopharmaceutical manufacturing
  • Synthetic biology — the application of engineering principles to the redesign and fabrication of new biological components and systems.

Among the assets cited by the report: the Virginia Catalyst’s Neuroscience Initiative; a $120 million donation to the University of Virginia to create a School of Data Science; the $1.4 billion of Virginia-based spine surgical device company K2M by Stryker, a leading medical technology company; and a 37% increase in new biopharmaceutical companies in Virginia between 2014-16.

Autonomous systems. The Roadmap identified these sub-verticals:

  • Teaming — coordination and interoperability between land, air and seafaring autonomous vehicles.
  • Remote sensing — antennas, radars, lidars, integrated optics.
  • Command and control — hardware and decentralized capabilities in the defense sector.
  • Urban air mobility — arising from research at NASA Langley.
  • Communications protocols (5G and others) — integration with next-generation cellular networks for remote access and control of various autonomous systems.

Among the assets cited: the physical proximity of the Port of Virginia, the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, and various branches of the armed forces; supporting industries such as Volvo and Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding; the recent acquisition of Virginia Tech spin-off Torc Robotics by Daimler; and research at the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing on autonomous robots, advanced sensing and “smart factories.”

Space and satellites. The Roadmap points to the following sub-verticals:

  • Small satellites — next-generation satellites will be smaller, and there will be more of them.
  • Commercial spacecraft
  • Commercial rockets
  • Communications protocols — satellite communications with next-generation cellular networks

“While space and satellites is a mature industry in Virginia, significant market shifts warrant continued and enhanced investment around research, development and commercialization in this area,” the report says. “Spaceflight and rocket launch barriers to market entry have decreased, and startups are infiltrating the market.”

Key assets: Virginia’s Mid-Atlantic Spaceport (MARS) is one of four FAA-approved spaceports; Rocket Labs was selected for venture funding; and Rocket Labs selected the NASA Wallops Flight Facility to locate its second small satellite orbital launch complex.

Agricultural and environmental technologies. The Roadmap prioritized the following sub-verticals:

  • Precision agriculture — crop efficiency
  • Water purification/filtration
  • Biodesigned food sources — bio stimulants and microbiome enhancements. Efforts to yield more nutritious and resilient plant and livestock food sources.
  • Sea level rise — increased sea levels and associated flooding risks from environmental degradation.

The document pointed to Virginia’s oyster industry as an area that meets the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental impact. Oysters are more than a source of food. The natural filter feeders help purify rivers and waterways, while oyster reefs buffer shorelines from erosion.

As special assets in the Commonwealth, the Roadmap cites the large size of Virginia’s agricultural sector; the presence of Hampton Roads as the world’s largest and deepest natural harbor; Virginia Tech’s Smart Farm network, which spreads the use of precision agriculture, autonomous systems, and biodesign; Mahindra Corporation’s selection of Blacksburg as the location for its new research center to design farm technology products; and a $120 million federal grant for resilience projects in Hampton Roads, including $5 million to create a resilience innovation hub.

Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is a mature area of focus in Virginia, notes the report, but it will continue to be of importance. Virginia has numerous leading-edge strengths in this area.

  • The highest concentration of cyber-security jobs of all 50 states; 3.3 times the national concentration level.
  • The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, a $25 million cyber-ecosystem talent-development, research-and-commercialization, and industry collaboration.
  • Amazon’s decision to locate its HQ2 project in Virginia.

Data science and analytics. The Roadmap identified the following key assets:

  • Virginia (and especially Northern Virginia) supports the world’s leading cluster of data centers. In 2018, NoVa’s data center footprint absorbed 270 megawatts of the global market; London, the second largest, absorbed 69 megawatts.
  • Northern Virginia has the highest density of dark fiber (unused fiber optic cable) in the world.
  • Virginia ranks 2nd highest in the concentration of tech sector employment nationally.
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38 responses to “Virginia’s Tech Roadmap: Space, Biotech, Cybersecurity and More

  1. What? No outrage over outrageous tuition costs and the dumbing down our of society and rampant bad breath and other insidious maladies foisted on us by those “liberal” higher ed types? Shocking!

    There is tremendous opportunity available to both young Virginians educationally and jobs for older Virginians with Va Tech and UVA and others leading the way!

    This article clearly shows how important higher-ed can be to all of us and refreshing compared to all the criticism that has been heaped on them.

    But the younger – and the older – have to have solid K-12 academics to succeed at college and get those jobs.

    Otherwise , folks from outside Virginia will come and take those opportunities, and we’ll end up with the service jobs.

    Most every Virginia child with an average IQ has the potential to compete successfully for these opportunities if we provide the schools and the instruction.

  2. “Collaboration should take the form of aligning investments in R&D, talent development, industry engagement, capacity building (such as venture capital), and marketing/advocacy for the purpose of globally competitive industry clusters.”

    What, no higher education involvement!! The sound of fat pigs lumbering to the trough of public monies is even louder yet, in all the silence. How many ways can we invent to feed the pigs, public and private, whole new industries of new pigs? The ways grow endless in the New Dominion under new leftist masters.

    • If you ever wanted to know what higher education is really about for the elite who run things in the state, you need read only this from the report featured in this post:

      “The Commonwealth Research and Technology Strategic Roadmap,created in statute, identifies research areas worthy of economic development and institutional focus. The process employed for the 2019 Roadmap included development of the primary document by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), review and approval by the Virginia Research Investment Committee (VRIC)and final approval by the Governor.”

      How much does all this cost (or has cost} Virginia’s college and university students, their parents, and Virginia taxpayers one way or the another, most all of those costs hidden from them, and who is pocketing their money and its profits, many profiteers standing in plain sight, behind opaque reports claiming public good?

      • On the one hand, the idea of developing and growing strong, competitive academic/industry clusters makes economic-development sense. Who doesn’t want to create new high-skilled jobs, stimulate new enterprises, and attract more corporate investment? As an approach, it sure beats subsidizing rootless corporations to move here, only to see them pick up and leave.

        The problem, as you point out, is that higher-ed costs are opaque. We have no idea what happens when Virginia Tech and UVa (and the others) bolster their R&D spending. What kind of cross-subsidies are occurring in the academic enterprises? Do in-state undergraduate students get stuck with higher costs as a result? We simply don’t know.

        • Yes, Jim. I agree. The corruption is rampant, and has been for years. And there are absolutely no signs of change. Much less shame.

          Why should we expect anything different in future?

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            Jim says: “We have no idea what happens when Virginia Tech and UVa (and the others) bolster their R&D spending. What kind of cross-subsidies are occurring in the academic enterprises? Do in-state undergraduate students get stuck with higher costs as a result? We simply don’t know.”

            Jim is right. The great problem is that those running the institutions, and those responsible for their supervision, chronically refuse year after year to open all their books and show the public, students, and parents, where their money is going, and why its going directly to kids education. So long as the covert operations of public institutions last we can only assume the worst.

        • Most research funding is from grants, and most grants are not from state or local governments.

          In fact, grants are used to reduce the costs to taxpayers.

      • It costs very little. Most research funding is from grants, and most grants are not from state or local governments.

        UVA does frequently report on the sources of grant funding. See for example

    • I fear what is being created right now at warp speed in the Virginia Commonwealth is an altogether new and massive kind of inter-locking web of private and special interests, (often operating within and/or among non-profit business structures”, who now control numerous and increasingly interactive levers of power within the state. This includes the Virginia state government executive and legislative branches, Virginia higher education, Virginia k-12 education, Virginia heath care, and a raft of ever growing public or quasi public services, along with the power of the public purse.

      These groups increasingly seem to be ever more inclined to line up together behind what others might suspect of being, or end up being, “massive public give aways.” Huge expenditures akin to Barack Obama’s stimulus plan for faux shovel ready and claimed critical projects that proved to be no such thing.

      Take for example, the soon to be proposed nearly $billion funding of k-12 education in Virginia targeted for public education focused on disadvantaged kids. How much of these monies are various Virginia special interests going to gobble up our of that program, and with what result and track record. Here for example, look into Curry School at UVA. There, I can already hear the hoof beats.

  3. Someday I’ll understand the presumed relationship between physical data centers / dark fiber and data analytics. However, that day will not be today. You become a leader in data analytics by analyzing data or building software-based tools for others to use when analyzing data. Yes, you might well access infrastructure and related capabilities on public clouds in physical data centers. However, you do not have to go to the data center to do that. That access is accomplished via a network from anywhere in the world. The corollary would be to say that manufacturing requires a lot of electricity and Virginia has a number of power nuclear power plants. Therefore, manufacturing plans should spring up in the close vicinity of Lake Anna to be close to where the power is generated.

    • There isn’t one. I was quite surprised by that. We have a number of major public and private users of data science and machine learning, but that’s not related to the physical location of the data.

  4. These are all good areas for investigation and growth. But what is Virginia’s competitive advantage in each of these areas? What will push Virginia into the top five states in dominance in these fields and topics? Or are we going to see spending of a lot of tax and tuition dollars to join the crowd?

    It doesn’t make sense to spend big bucks to become a premier research institution in a specific area unless you also possess a competitive advantage over everyone else doing the same thing.

    This reminds me of a job interview I had quite a few years ago with a startup telecom company looking for a general counsel. I asked the president what he thought were the Company’s strategic advantages in competing with then Bell Atlantic. I didn’t get much of an answer nor the job. But within a year, the Company was in bankruptcy. Glad I failed that interview.

    • Excellent comment!

      Take this part of comment: “But within a year, the Company was in bankruptcy.”

      That is what happens to private companies, and why they do most research and development so much more efficiently and productively than research universities who do not go broke, hence are typically highly inefficient, costly, and work with very low productively. Such university researchers can’t lose, and they use other people’s money, which they typically waste, often on vanity projects of interest to no one, or with very low rates of monetary return. Hence private research companies often find ways to get universities to do this “crap” research for them, at the expense of the public, students, parents, taxpayers, federal government.

      It doesn’t make sense to spend big bucks to become a premier research institution in a specific area unless you also possess a competitive advantage over everyone else doing the same thing.

      • This finishes above comment as regards that comments last paragraph, namely:

        “It doesn’t make sense to spend big bucks to become a premier research institution in a specific area unless you also possess a competitive advantage over everyone else doing the same thing.”

        This is not true in many cases when applied to University research. Here, using other peoples money, universities will often start non competitive programs just to enter the game for reasons of status, and/or to take very long bets, because they can afford to gamble with and lose other peoples money, on long shot bets that no one else would undertake. And of course much university research is driven by nothing more that fake status, irrespective of results. Enormous amounts are wasted.

        • University research is extremely competitive, and is typically not paid for by the university. FYI. It’s from grant funding.

          • virginiagal2, a lot of research funding does come from universities.
            You can see it in federal data like the NSF website. Because university research is competitive, as you said, universities do have to cover some costs to get the grants. The link below should show the breakdown of Virginia Tech’s R&D expenditures. Institutional funds for R&D were $226M for 2017 out of $522M total, which was the largest source even exceeding Federal.


            What is never clear, as Jim said, is where those institutional funds come from.

          • My understanding is that those funds are primarily the university share of the cost of the researchers and the facilities. In other words, relatively fixed costs.

            I know a fair number of people who do research, and they’re expected to bring in grant money to do their research, not just handed research funds.

    • Virginia is already a top state for computer science and data science. We have the second highest percentage of tech workers.

  5. Students should not have to pay for research overhead. Research should fund itself. To the extent any research-related costs are born by taxpayers, any university employee doing research should not profit from the research, including taking forming a company to commercialize her or his research.

    • Best I can tell, research is typically subsidizing teaching, rather than the other way around.

      And for stem fields, you really can’t teach properly if you’re not doing research. It’s part and parcel of learning the fields properly.

      • That’s interesting. Where is the evidence that research is subsidizing instruction? If this is, indeed, accurate, that tells me colleges and universities are even more inefficient in terms of instruction and overhead.

        Research should not subsidize instruction but should cover all of its direct and indirect costs, including overhead. As I posted earlier on a similar topic, we need cost allocation plans that address the costs of instruction and research, as well as athletics, as suggested by Larry. These need to be audited.

  6. virginiagal2, you can teach STEM at the undergraduate level without doing research. It is taught this way at community colleges and also LACs. Top LACs produce graduates that go on to get STEM PHDs at a significantly higher rate than research universities. You can see this fact in data available on the NSF website.

    Virginia Tech gets 43% of its research expenditures from institutional funds. If you do some analytic accounting on that $226M (it has to come from some source of income and that source of income is not grants), I think you will come to some interesting (and perhaps disturbing) conclusions.

    • Source? Link? In order to get into good stem graduate programs, you’re expected to have done undergraduate research. More PhDs does not mean they had equivalent careers or got into equivalent schools. In fact, for top universities, undergraduates majoring in science have typically already done research via internships or similar in high school.

      My understanding is that research expenditures from institutional funds typically are the cost of the staff and the facilities, which are typically a fixed cost to the university. The building is counted. The healthcare cost of professors are counted. You have to have professors. If grants are paying for part of their salaries, you have less cost to the taxpayers, not more. At least that’s how I understood it worked when I was on the board of a non profit that made small science grants to university based researchers.

    • I think I’ve found one of the liberal arts colleges you’re referring to. Problem is, that school doesn’t support your argument. Reed does produce a disproportionate number of PhDs in stem. It also has really extensive undergraduate research opportunities, which is very specifically what it attributes that success to. See a nice discussion at

      • Following is a news story with top STEM PHD producing schools. The majority of the schools on the list are LACs and many of these LACs have MINIMAL externally funded research. (And by the way, Reed does make my case because it has minimal institutional expenditures on research yet ranks very high for STEM PHD production. Reed spends $620 per student from institutional sources vs $7,380 for Virginia Tech. )

        This data is available on NSF if you can figure out how to use the tool below and there are probably links on NSF

        You are conflating externally-sponsored research (of the type Virginia Tech is doing so much of) with professor-directed undergraduate research, which these LACs will do and which are helpful for students going to medical school or getting an advanced STEM degree.

  7. I’m actually not conflating anything. My point is the value of undergraduates doing research. And the list supports that. In fact, a number of the colleges on the list are not just colleges. Most are small elite private institutions, not ordinary colleges, with annual costs as high as 75k, staffed with professors who do significant and in some cases major research. For that matter, Harvey Mudd is part of a consortium of graduate and undergraduate institutions.

    You claimed that professors at these institutions don’t do research, and that is very much incorrect. They don’t have the size, or the funding, of the much larger research universities, but they do get funding and they definitely do research, including grant funded research. Heck, Reed has a nuclear reactor primarily for undergraduate research.

    I’ll also add that research for any size of institution tends to have significant economic benefits for local communities as well, as has been obvious in Charlottesville startups.

    • Undergraduates can do research without having to subsidize huge research programs that largely benefit researchers and graduate students. That is my point.

      The U.S. has the highest costs in the world for undergraduate education yet is no better than mid-pack for degree completions. Cross-subsidizing research is one of the significant contributing factors.

      Where does the $226M in institutional research funds at VT come from?

      • The liberal art colleges you noted cost significantly more than UVA, not less. The research programs make tuition cheaper, not more expensive.

        As I previously noted, in the cases I’ve seen personally, the institutional share of research is typically the corresponding share of faculty salaries and benefits, the value of use of existing facilities, and the stipends for existing graduate students.

        In other words, it’s usually, in the cases I have personal knowledge of, an allocation of expenses that would be incurred whether or not the research takes place. The research is subsidizing the cost of faculty and facilities.

        If this is still unclear I can elaborate.

        • Take a look at this article by a former provost of USC. It might shed some light on this dim area of accounting:

          What do you think the sources of funds are for the $226M in institutional R&D expenditures at Virginia Tech? What activities does that money fund and not fund?

          You are misconstruing my point regarding LACs. The point, again, is they can educate students in STEM without having huge research programs like VT. (They do provide supervised research with a professor but that is usually an instructional expense. I didn’t claim these LACs didn’t have some other form of runaway cost bloat (e.g. growth in administration costs).

          • It’s basically an echo of other articles I’ve seen. And in fact it validates my points, that these expenses are from in kind funding, of faculty time and existing facilities.

            UVA has higher research costs because of the med school and the engineering school; Tech because of engineering. They have expensive staff and expensive facilities. Research is essential to med and engineering schools.

            The kids I know who wound up admitted to elite universities pursuing stem, social science, or medical careers were doing research in high school. They expect to do it in undergraduate and graduate studies. And the direct result of that type of research is new businesses and economic growth.

            Do you know how Google got started? A graduate research project nicknamed PageRank, at Stanford. The whole Silicon Valley phenomenon was fed by the proximity of major research universities.

            Students who don’t do research can get decent jobs. But students who do significant research can start new fields and new companies. Fewer of the latter hurts the commonwealth and it hurts the education of our citizens.

  8. virginiagal2 is sharp, and has been much admired on this blog for her acuity, but here Izzo is sharper yet. So expect virginiagal2’s losses to mount and Izzo to pile up his chips ever higher, as dialogue continues. Let’s watch. And enjoy Bacon’s Rebellion at its best.

  9. virginiagal2, what the former provost wrote does not support what you have said at all. He is saying precisely the opposite. You wrote:

    “Best I can tell, research is typically subsidizing teaching, rather than the other way around.”

    The former provost concludes that funded research does not even pay for itself. If funded research does not pay for itself, how does it subsidize teaching?:

    “It may be time to come clean, and publicly acknowledge that the costs of doing funded research are much higher than the price payed by the sponsors.”

    He then asks how that research shortfall is made filled. What subsidizes research?

    “A college or university that does research ends up spending considerable resources of its own even when most of its research is “funded”. How and why is this the case, and where does the institution look to find the resources needed to cover this unfunded research cost? Undergraduate tuition seems like one likely source.”

    Professor Christopher Newfield, in “The Great Mistake” , page 82, is more succinct: “I am saying that universities use revenues from one core mission — instruction — to cover losses in their other core mission — research. ”

    Professor Vance Fried estimates that “40 percent of reported instruction costs at both public and private research universities are really research costs.” Using activity based costing, Professor Charles Schwartz found that actual expenditure on undergraduate instruction at the University of California is only about 1/3rd of what is reported as instruction. This is because the accounting guidelines used (NACUBO and OMB) allow universities to include Departmental research in instruction costs.

    You haven’t tried to answer my repeated question about where Virginia Tech’s $226M in annual institutional funds to support R&D comes from or how it is used. I asked it because I thought it is topical for this post and will illustrate the issue. I’ll go ahead and say what I believe. The bulk of the $226M is coming from tuition and state appropriations, which are the only sources available to VT large enough and without restrictions to cover it. This money is used for research, not instruction. (Note that this is only the “Open” subsidization of research the former provost talks about. There are also likely “Hidden Costs” as he refers to them in departmental research, which is classified as instruction.) $226M represents about 35% of combined tuition and general appropriation before “Hidden Costs” are even considered.

    I am not saying get rid of research. I am saying funding for research should be transparent and my belief is it should not be done through cross-subsidies from undergraduates since their benefit from it is minimal and they are greatly burdened by debt.

    • Actually, if you read what he wrote, in detail, in many cases he supports my points.

      The university costs of research are mostly covered by grants. He indicated over three to one, ie 1000 vs 306. These are costs not covered by the grants, which are primarily the value of faculty time and existing facilities, which is exactly what I’ve repeatedly said here.

      You are not going to get top professors without them being able to do research. Learning under top professors directly affects students careers in technical fields. Students are unlikely to be able to reach the top tier in most stem and social science professions without doing research, often starting that research in high school.

      PageRank, the Stanford dissertation topic for Page and Brin that resulted in Google, is now used as the basis for an undergraduate exercise in entry level computer courses. I have seen this personally, it’s not second hand. Things change that fast.

      The article indicates that the unrecovered costs are primarily faculty time and existing facilities, which is what I have repeatedly said. You are not going to get decent technical faculty if you don’t do research, and the skills used in research are now used by practitioners in many fields, not just by professors. Google the loss of most of Carnegie Mellons robotics and machine learning group to Uber a few years back.

      If you look at UVAs budget, for the academic division, you can see that about 33% comes from tuition and fees, about 33% from endowment and gifts, about 21% from research funding, and about 8% from state funding.

      If you accept the numbers from Armstrong, for the sake of argument, about 6.3% would be faculty time and facilities used for research but not directly reimbursed. That in a budget where fully 33% is from endowment and gifts, much of that given quite specifically to support research. In other words, the cost is being willingly and enthusiastically offset by alumni and other donors.

      I know that’s why I give, and it’s very specifically what I think the university should be doing for the good of the Commonwealth. That research directly creates new businesses and new jobs. Charlottesville has a booming startup community as a result.

      For Virginia Tech, an institution where research is especially important, the institutional funds to cover research and development would presumably also be primarily in kind salaries and facilities. Those are relatively fixed costs, because you cannot have a halfway decent engineering school without doing research.

      I would presume a substantial amount of offsetting funds comes from Techs role as a state land grant university and agricultural research institution, which is funded by farmers, taxpayers, and industry, to benefit Virginia’s agricultural industry. That system provides pretty extensive support for farmers, which I’m personally familiar with. That’s apparently about 87 million per year. See

      About ten percent of Techs research funding reportedly comes from industry partnerships, which would be around another 52 million or so. Presumably at least some comes from their endowment, currently at around 1.5 billion.

      Armstrong is a physicist, IIRC. There isn’t always a direct one to one payoff for physics research for undergraduates. There is for computer science, data science, engineering, economics, biology, chemistry, engineering, and many other fields.

      Bottom line is that we need these large research universities to power our economy and to produce the type of graduates that can succeed in an extremely competitive world. This is not the place to cut. I would not want my family members going to universities that didn’t do substantial, quality research.

      • Virginiagal2, You seen to be making two different arguments:

        (1) that Virginia needs strong research universities to power the economy,

        (2) and that in-state undergraduates + state support is not subsidizing R&D.

        I don’t think anyone on this blog would dispute the economic desirability of having strong, vigorous research universities in Virginia. The question is who is paying for that research. You and Izzo both make what appear to be intelligent, well-informed arguments. Academic accounting is notoriously opaque. Both of you are making surmises. To my mind, the discussion shows that we really don’t know the answer.

        The fact that we don’t know does make me suspicious. Why don’t we know? Because it’s in the interest of the universities to obscure the accounting?

        Suspicions, of course, do not constitute facts. But they can inform the questions we ask and where we dig for more information. I’m inclined to keep digging.

        • Izzo can speak for himself. But gaps are not filled by nothing. Money to fill these huge gaps must come from somewhere. Here, to ask the question is to answer it. Do not universities answer it every year with claims shown in charts like UVA’s that headline your post found here:

          • Again, it’s not at all clear that there actually IS a gap for anything except grant tracking purposes. Existing faculty salaries and existing facilities appear to be most of what’s considered the gap for those purposes.

            At UVA, tuition went up 2.9% this year. Inflation was 2.44%. So we’re basically looking at a 0.46% discrepancy.

            The number of students has also been increasing, for example when adding the school of data science, so it’s not clear if state funding PER STUDENT has been staying steady, or if it has decreased. Funding per student is more applicable as a measure, and it’s quite possible that’s gone down. I may try to run those numbers later.

            What money is being spent on is a very legitimate question, even for less than half a percent, but bluntly, we are not looking at a large increase beyond inflation.

        • Jim is correct that there are multiple questions here, and if we don’t isolate them, we’ll get nowhere. I may write more on those later, but for now let me just comment on Jim’s conclusion that he is “inclined to keep digging”. I don’t think we should have to “keep digging”. This data should be more transparent. We know exactly how much Virginia public colleges spend on athletics and how much of that comes from student fees. To use Virginia Tech as an example, we know they spend about $94M on athletics and we know each undergraduate is charged $326 to support it (VT has the lowest athletic fees in the state). As big as VT athletics are, research DWARFS it, and we have no idea how much in tuition and fees goes to support it. VT has $522M in R&D expenditures (excluding departmental research) with $226M of that coming from “institutional resources”. So R&D is 5.5X as big as athletics (again, excluding departmental research, which is accounted for as “instruction”), yet don’t know how much of that comes from tuition and fees. Just to put it in context, if half of the “institutional expenditures” came from tuition (and I am “surmising” here as Jim says), the amount per student would be 12X what students are required to pay for athletics. Yet we have NO detail on this. In both cases (athletics fees and research support), the students must pay, go into debt (which is federally – taxpayer – guaranteed against default), yet we don’t know. And again, this is just the “Open” R&D costs and excludes “Hidden” research which is categorized as “instruction” because the accounting rules inexplicably permit it. This “Hidden” cost can only be estimated through activity based costing, but the former provost and other estimate it may be more than the “Open” costs.

          I disagree strongly with virginiagal2’s fixed cost argument and will try to write more on it later if I have time. She indicated the former provost’s analysis agreed with her on this but that is a selective reading at best and is certainly not why the provost chose to write or one of his major points. Here again are his words:

          “As colleges and universities seek to move up the reputational ladder, they increase emphasis on funded research,which leads to a need for more internal research spending , which in turn increases the pressure to increase tuition. This present relationship between education, research and reputation was set in place in a time when resources were less constrained. Over time,however, this coupling of research, education and reputation with its internal feedback loop has produced an enormously expensive product. Very high expenditures in the name of “education” are required in order to balance the product budget, but perversely the loop leads to de-emphasis of education in favor of research. Unfortunately, these “educational” costs that are loaded with research costs have risen so high that both governments and individuals are finding it extremely difficult to pay them, and are rebelling and demanding to know if the outcome justifies the price.”

          At a minimum, we should know how much tuition is being spent to determine if the “outcome justifies the price.”

          virginiagal2 also talks about how undergraduate benefit from R&D and is not troubled therefore by the cost. If you took this argument to the extreme it would almost be impossible to support — think of the expensive star researcher supported by an even more expensive research-only support retinue who spends 99% of her time on research and emerges every third year to do a seminar with selected graduate students, yet she and her team is funded 40% by undergraduate tuition. The provost also disagrees: “All in all, I think it is fair to say that it is not possible at present to make a convincing, data-based argument that use of research active faculty generally leads to better undergraduate student learning outcomes than are obtained by using an equivalently degreed but not research focused faculty.” I also think it stands to reason that students not in the major research areas (STEM) do not benefit from this expenditure, but they have no choice to subsidize it anyway (think of the 555 psychology graduates at VCU).

          Now that I’ve written this much, let me comment on the former provost. He he was Provost of USC. The provost is the second highest academic administrator at USC and is in charge of research. Of note, USC, has higher R&D spending than either VT or UVA. He was also a Dean at Johns Hopkins, which is the #1 school in R&D expenditure. He quotes the former president of Hopkins, John Lombardi:

          “Universities often report a number that appears to indicate how much the university spends on instruction. We might believe that this number accurately represents teaching expenses and even do some analysis based on that belief. We would be wrong to do so. ”

          At a minimum, there should be more transparency. If you look at the UK and Australia, you can see they have managed this. Why can’t we?

          Just to reiterate, and as Jim pointed out, I support R&D. But that doesn’t mean it should not be subject to review and analysis. For some reason I think of a sausage analogy. We like sausage. Some people don’t want us to consider how it is made. But the whole enterprise has gotten so expensive that we really need to consider how the sausage is made. What actually goes into the sausage? Is there a way to make Kosher sausage? (There is, by the way, and it is done by meat selection.)

          I’ll also add that I am not picking on Virginia Tech. I just use them here because the post was about VT and they spend more on research than any other school in Virginia. This is a universal issue.

  10. virginiagal2, you made a few comments on the sources of VT’s $226M in institutional funds. You commented that about $52M comes from industry partnerships. That is about right (NSF shows $40M business, $7.2M nonprofits and $7M other) but these funds are accounted for separately and are NOT part of the “Institutional” funds. Also note that these grants may not cover all costs for the sponsored research and VT may have to cover the gap.

    You also say about $87M is agriculture related. NSF actually has that breakdown. VT does $73M in agriculture research. $27M of that comes from institutional funds. If all of the $27M comes from state appropriations, it still leaves $200M in institutional funds unaccounted for. The Ag extension is largely accounted for as public service and is separate from the research numbers. Virginia Tech’s endowment is $1.15B according to Wikipedia. Assuming a 5% payout, that would only generate $58M a year total. But without doing further research, I would think 80% or more of this is restricted, and much of that not for research (athletics, scholarships, non-research intensive schools like business, etc.). It isn’t going to come close. LarryG had speculated patent earnings at one point, but I looked that up and if I recall correctly, it was about $4M over a 20 year period. Only a few exceptional schools (MIT, Princeton with a valuable medication patent) cover much of their costs that way.

    But again, why should we have to work so hard to determine this? We know exactly how much students are charged for athletics.

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